How to Care for Yourself When Caregiving
When providing care for a sick loved one, we often neglect our own physical and mental wellbeing. But our ability to look after someone else’s needs depends entirely on us being healthy. Here are some ways to effectively take care of yourself while taking care of others.
According to a survey conducted by the German science and technological giant Merck, caregivers in India are spending 24 hours per week providing informal or unpaid care to their family members and friends since the COVID-19 pandemic started. These numbers are double of what they used to be before the pandemic, with one in three people being completely new to the role of a caregiver.
Caregivers manage the physical, emotional, and practical needs of a sick or disabled person, and the family caregiver is the most common example. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. Caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can give you a sense of fulfillment. But according to Hyderabad-based clinical psychologist Majula Rao, “Caregiver stress is a common effect of this role, and it leads to fatigue, irritability, social isolation and even depression. On top of this, COVID-19 has added challenges like reduced access to resources, cancelled doctors’ appointments, and a loss of social support.”
If you are in a caregiving role, it is important to remember that your capacity to take care of someone else depends on you taking care of your own physical and mental health. Here are a few steps you can take to recharge and renew yourself, both for your own health and the benefit of the person you provide for.
- Focus on what you can provide.
Caregivers tend to burn themselves physically and mentally because of the inability to understand their limits, and feel guilty believing that they aren’t doing enough for their loved ones. You have to trust that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you are able to at any given time. Set realistic standards about how much time and resources you can give for your duties, and forgive yourself when you are unable to meet some goals.
- Make eating well and sleeping your top priorities.
Dr Rao points out that people tend to forget about their own needs when they are in caregiving roles. Missing meals and losing sleep can cause fatigue, irritability and weaken you physically, making it harder for you to function daily. Make sure to get adequate sleep and proper nutrition every day in order to keep your energy up.
- Create a sanctuary for yourself.
Living in close quarters with a family member you are caring for can seem restrictive, and not give you an opportunity for getting any time off. Create a space for yourself where you can unwind from the stress of the day. Use the space to indulge in relaxing, non-stressful activities like taking care of plants, reading books or watching movies.
- Try a practice like yoga or meditation.
Your body has its natural way of combating stress, called the ‘relaxation response’. You can purposefully activate this response through relaxing practices like yoga, meditation or deep-breathing exercises.
- Seek support and accept help.
Caregiving is a time-consuming job, and it often causes social isolation. Dr Rao advises making an effort to stay connected with friends and other family members. “Do not hesitate to ask for help when you feel burdened with work or stressed out—remember that you are not alone in this,” she says.
- Acknowledge that you are not okay.
It is perfectly normal to feel angry or frustrated at your situation, but since caregiving is looked upon as something that is our responsibility, it might be hard to accept these negative feelings associated with it. Try to find healthy ways of coping with the stress, such as talking to a friend or taking a walk daily. If you feel burnt out and emotionally exhausted, look into getting therapy for your mental wellbeing.